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Editorial: Obstacles aside, schools need to push for 180 days of class

Jan. 23, 2014 @ 12:00 AM

First it was the Polar Vortex.

Then it was the Water Crisis.

This week it was just more snow, but the combination of events has taken its toll on school attendance. Students in Putnam County, for example, through Wednesday had only attended three days of school since the Christmas holiday.

Some districts already have used their makeup days and may have to take unusual measures to get in the 180 days of instruction required by law.

One suggestion that has been floated is giving school districts a free pass on the days lost to the chemical spill in the Elk River, when many school districts were closed for lack of drinking water. Apparently, state law would allow that because the closings were related to a federal disaster declaration.

That might be the easy answer, but it should be the last resort.

West Virginia has had calendar problems for years, preventing many school districts from completing 180 days of instruction. In fact, during the 2009-2010 school year, not a single school district in West Virginia provided the state's mandated 180 days of instruction.

At that time, state law dictated that the school year could not begin before Aug. 26 and could not go beyond June 8, with no fudging on either end. The state legislature has since given school districts more flexibility with their calendars, and many districts start earlier now in an effort to build more makeup days into the year in case of bad weather and emergencies.

But still some districts have had a problem meeting the 180 days. If West Virginia were a leader in public education, that might not be such a great concern. But sadly, national testing and achievement scores show students in the Mountain State rank near the bottom in many areas.

While there are many factors that contribute to West Virginia's poor performance, shortchanging the number of instructional days is certainly a big concern.

Just waiving the class time missed during the water crisis may make things look better on paper, but it will not help student performance on those assessments tests coming up this spring.

Despite the challenges, school districts need to double down and find a way to make up the missed days.

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